Officials at Y-12 in Oak Ridge say they have determined the cause of last month’s fire that resulted in a facility-wide emergency.
On February 22nd, chips of uranium material from machining activity that had been processed for storage underwent a chemical reaction called rapid exothermic oxidation, which occurs when some elements are exposed to oxygen in the air. Officials say that this is a known hazard with safety protocols in place.
The fire was contained to a one-square-foot space under a filtered hood in an area designed for work with radioactive objects.
Y-12 says that petroleum coke was used in an attempt to extinguish the flames, but the fire was not immediately suppressed, so the Y-12 Fire Department was called. The building was then evacuated, and out of an abundance of caution, officials declared an emergency. Fire crews applied additional petroleum coke, which finally put the blaze out.
As officials stated the day of the incident, no injuries were reported and there was no off-site contamination or impact off-site. That day, they also said that all of the safety precautions that were in place worked as they were supposed to and that officials were “satisfied” with the response.